As a young boy in Greece, John Fragopoulos got on his tricycle and headed for the local market. He’d buy a box of sardines and then go around the village and sell them to friends and neighbours.
Some things don’t change – except in terms of scale.
John wasn’t to know back then that it would be the start of a business life where fish were it, or that he and his family would settle in a country across the world and earn their living from selling fish.
John, 70, and his wife Anthoula co-own FishCo, a Canberra retail success story. While John does the buying, his son Anthony runs the wholesale side of the business and their daughters Nicoletta and Katherine help out with the administrative side. They also have 15 staff, a number which doubles around this time of year – its busiest.
The family has been running the Fyshwick business since 1997. John came to Australia from Greece, for the first time, in 1963.
“Dad said we’d be here for about five years, but when he saw me wearing flares and with my haircut at the time, he sent me back to Greece and into the army,” John joked.
After he married in Greece, John said his father invited him back to Australia so the families could meet. He’s been in Canberra ever since.
Running a business back then was different, John reminisces. There was not so much government intervention and red tape in the fishing industry.
“It’s a lot harder now,” he said. ” I loved what we did, but it’s time for me to take it a little easier.”
The family has put the Fyshwick business on the market, which John says could continue to thrive under new owners.
“It was a hard decision for us to make to sell,” he said. “But it is the right one.”
“We’d have about 200 wholesale customers alone, from down at the Snowy Mountains across to the Murrumbidgee area, but since COVID, we have concentrated more on the retail side of things.”
John said the business had grown rapidly since its humble days at the Belconnen markets. It expanded into three stores around Canberra before amalgamating into what is now FishCo at Fyshwick. He invested heavily in fitting out the shop so he could provide the freshest produce to his customers. It boasts a huge refrigerated floor space of 400 square metres.
“By making all this area refrigerated, you cut down on how much the fish is handled – so it stays fresh on display until it gets sold,” he said.
“At the end of the day, the shop also becomes the cool room which means you aren’t handling it twice a day.
“We’ve done this to keep everything as fresh as possible because the more you touch fish, the softer it gets and loses quality.
“These are just a few tricks of the trade you learn over the years,” he said.
John said it was a far from easy decision to sell the business. He can’t see himself not working post-sale; maybe he’ll just become “semi-retired” – and yes, it will mean more time for fishing.
The family has a holiday home down the coast at Malua Bay, and he’ll be taking the boat out, something he hasn’t done for some time.
FishCo is on sale through Michael Newham of Finn Business Sales for $2.6 million.